Uganda: Chigalagala - Kasese - Natural - SL14, SL34, SL28
In the cup: A sweet and fruity coffee with notes of nectarine and pineapple with a little bit of the 'funk' (in a good way) that is characteristic of natural processed (sun dried) coffees.
Cupping Score: 86
Mouthfeel: Structured, round, smooth.
Variety: SL14, SL 34, SL28
Producers: Kasese smallholders
Altitude: 1500 - 2000 meters above sea level
Region: Kasese, Western Uganda
All the coffees are from smallholder communities around the Kasese area in Western Uganda. Many refers to this area as the Rwenzori mountain range, which in the local language translates to "The Mountains of the Moon. The landscape is stunning. Just a few kilometers away is the Queen Elizabeth National Park, one of the main game parks in Uganda.
Most of the cherries are from farms located in specific parishes (villages) at altitudes between 1500 - 2000 masl. Besides quality, our main criteria for buying is that the coffees are fully traceable, including the premiums we pay, which must go directly to the producers. Farmers are small and have about have about 600 - 1000 trees on average, each tree produces approximately 0.5 kg of greens. They work in community groups, where each community has a lead farmer with a demonstration plot where they will train 30-50 farmers in their community.
The Kasese Coffee Yard is a new private collection center and drying station for naturals. When I was there in July 2019 they had just built new facilities and opened local purchasing points for cherries, as a pilot project for increased quality and traceability. During my visit we decided to run a small pilot on a new prep and fermentation method, and we agreed to commit ourselves to buy specific volumes of coffees processed a certain way at fixed prices.
Kasese district was formed in 1974 under the Provincial Administration of Rwenzori district. Prior to this, it was part of Toro kingdom that comprised the present districts of Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Kamwenge and Kasese. It was founded in 1830 when Omukama Kaboyo Olimi I established his own independent kingdom. Toro's monarchy was abolished in 1967 by the Government of Uganda, but was reinstated in 1993. And is now a symbolic Kingdom within Uganda.
The drying yard project is developed and financed by Great Lakes Coffee Exporters. All the cherry buying is managed through an application based software. Every farmer delivering cherries, no matter the volume, is registered with the app. The application tracks every lot, including which farmers have contributed cherries to that specific outturn, when the cherries were harvested, farm data etc. The app also allows them to easily calculate the premiums the farmers are entitled to after that specific lot is sold.
Farming and varieties
Farmers grow a mix of varieties, predominantly SL14, 28 and 34, as they do in Kenya. The coffees come from smallholder communities, mostly farmers working with less than 1 hectare each. On average, farmers cultivate less than 1500 trees per hectare, and unless they are part of a program they can produce as little as 100 - 200 grams of green coffee per tree.
The farms are managed by the family members, and located in parishes, or communities. Each parish is the administrative centre for between seven and twelve villages. These villages can be home to as little as two hundred people. Farmers often work communally with a leader for each group of farms.
Post-Harvest Processing - Naturals
Cherries are sourced from communities in specific parishes within Great Lake Coffee’s Western producer group members. The cherries are either bought at small collection centers managed by Great Lakes or lead farmers in the local villages.
Harvest and cherry selection
Coffee cherries are harvested by family members, then delivered to the collection centers for sorting before taken to the yard for drying, or delivered directly to the yard for sorting and drying.
Soaking and pre-sorting
Immediately upon delivery the cherries are soaked in water. The healthy cherries will sink, while the diseased and damaged cherries will float and be skimmed off. The remaining cherries are hand sorted to remove diseased, under ripe and over ripe cherries.
Cherries are normally fermented on the tables managed by adjusting layers according to the type of prep and fermentation we want. We also have a project where the cherries are fermented in plastic before being dried on plastic.
Drying and hand-sorting
For the regular preparation, the cherries are dried in thin layers to stop further fermentation, and built up over some days to layers between four to six centimetres. The coffees are moved frequently and they will be covered during the hottest hours of the day to protect the cherries from intense sunlight, then again at night to protect against humidity. This creates a slow and homogenous drying process which adds to the coffee’s quality. Drying naturals with this method and in this environment takes between 15 to 20 days.
We are always looking for unique coffees, and also for communities or projects where we can impact on farmers’ financial and social security. In Uganda we’re focusing our efforts in Kasese in the west and Mbale in Eastern Uganda, also known as the Mount Elgon area bordering Kenya. We work in areas from 1500 - 2300 masl, where we think there is great potential that fits our preferences on profiles. It is also important to us to know that the premiums we pay for quality go directly to farmers and their communities.
There is no doubt Uganda has great potential for quality coffee. Specialty coffee in Uganda is in its infancy and quantities are limited. Most exporters/importers are focusing on buying good coffees at very low prices, but we don’t feel these prices are sustainable if you want to support higher quality. The existing coffee market means that the premiums we pay are a significant increase on the price farmers normally earn, and that our customers get a fantastic quality for the price.